(Probably) uncontroversial opinion: Margaret Atwood is an outstanding female author. I intentionally said “female author” instead of just author because I think that in this specific instance, being a woman gives Atwood an edge to make her characters, especially the female ones, incredibly realistic. She digs into topics and issues with such clarity that you find yourself better understanding moments that have happened in your own life. I adore her, and everything I have ever read by her, and this is no different.
In this book, Elaine has returned to her hometown a successful-ish painter, in order to have her work exhibited at a local gallery. This return to her roots and childhood pulls her into an introspection and she reexamines her life, her choices, and who she has become. Jumping from the present to her childhood we learn what it was like for her growing up, and can eventually see how she got to the present. Elaine is definitely an unreliable and incomplete narrator so the reader is left with many questions at the conclusion of the novel, but a better understanding of how the wounds of childhood stay with us, Elaine’s in particular. She is a flawed person, and it is uncomfortable to see her childhood (complete with horrible unending verbal abuse from her “friends) and her person rather flayed open for us to examine, but that is really the point of Atwood, and this book.
If I had to quickly summarize her novels to hopefully hook others into picking up a book of hers, I would qualify them as lyrical and unrelenting. She has a beautiful mastery of the English language and describes things starkly and without fuss. I was going to try to capture a few lines or to that I found remarkable in this book, but I would basically have to highlight the whole dang thing. She is one in a million.
The unrelenting part is because she always strives to expose the raw honesty and ugliness of humanity which can at times be hard to read. She doesn’t let up, but rather plods the story, and you forward, toward examining uncomfortable truths. And I (mostly) love her for it.